A Little Language Vent by a Foreigner 2


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We decided to move to Germany. We weren’t forced and we weren’t escaping anything. Our choice to move here was for an opportunity to experience a new culture and to travel. We are extremely fortunate to have had this experience and that my husband’s work had the opening. Although it wasn’t exactly a pay raise or a boost in his career (or mine, for that matter), it has been an experience that has changed us forever and we gained so much more than monetary reward.

Coming to this country I was a foreigner, but a fortunate foreigner with a lot of help and under the security blanket of my home country. English is a popular language out here, but it’s not the main one and that became apparent as soon as we landed. I took a few German classes before we arrived and once we got here, immersed myself in three months of daily, four-hour classes before our finances became cut and we had to scale back. Immersion learning is not cheap and since we were technically immersed by living in the country, I assumed it would all fall into place.

Unfortunately, whenever I would go somewhere and speak German, about 75% of the time the person would speak back to me in English causing me to fall back to it, as well. My German friends told me it’s because the people I’m speaking to most likely want to practice their English, however, sometimes it’s out of frustration, I’m sure. My German isn’t that great and they may not have the patience to listen to me stumble through my sentences when they could easily speak to me in English. There are those few folks that let me speak German and encourage, correct, and respond back to me in German. Then there are those Germans who (understandably so) will only speak German to me because we are in Germany and should speak German. Genau. Exactly. I agree with that. Those last two types people are extremely helpful, especially as a mother to a bilingual child.

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My son was made here, born in a German hospital (not that it has any bearing on his language), and has also been in the German school system since he was about 19 months old. As of this post he is nearly three and can have entire conversations in the German or English language (or sometimes he mashes them together…) and I think it’s wonderful. I talk to him in German and he corrects me which of course makes me laugh, but also worries me a bit. I want to be able to continue with his language development and if I can’t speak it fluently, then I need to figure out a way to employ someone or something that can when we move back to America. In the meantime, I’ve been hoarding German language workbooks from flea markets, downloading free German apps, and researching online courses for kids (which mom is going to utilize, too).

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As a mother, I want to be involved as much as I can with his kindergarten, but it’s very hard when everything they send home is in German and all of the PTA conferences are in German. I try, I really do, but for some reason I can’t seem to grasp this language 100%. I left the first conference half-way through in tears of frustration. I tried hard to follow, but I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t want to ask them to stop and explain everything to me in English, so I held it together and quietly left, then slightly broke down on the walk home.

I’m posting this today because of this silly little brochure. It made quite an impact (and no, my kid does NOT have lice, and that’s not the point of this, ha!). When I come in to pick up my son I usually look at the board to see what’s going on (in German), get notices about important info (in German), speak to the teachers about his day (in German), but today they reached out to me in English with this icky-but-relevant brochure, and it made me feel gratefully acknowledged.

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My experience is in no way comparable to people who have left war-torn countries in search of a better life in a new country that they don’t know the language of, or the culture, etc…but my compassion for those who have experienced that transition has definitely amplified.

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A person may get the gist of their new country’s language, but to fully comprehend it takes a lot of time and dedication which isn’t always possible. The fact that they are trying should speak volumes. Americans should really take that to heart in their own country. Especially when I meet so many Americans who have lived here in Germany for years and still don’t bother to attempt to speak the language. Remember that when you go home and get frustrated because you have to “press 1 for English”. At least try, you’d be surprised how many are willing to help and how much more respect you could gain…and give for that matter.


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2 thoughts on “A Little Language Vent by a Foreigner

  • Wendy

    Great job Holly! So true, I agree 🙂

    It might be because I have a little German in me (G.Grandma – Steinhorst) or I have had a “little Mädchen” who was born here too, but it can be a bummer when you try really hard to sprech (speak) and it’s always back in English. I have made it an annoying habit to never slip back into English even when they insist. Then I say something really Swabian like “Wie werde Ich lernen. (How will I learn?) this usually gets a smart alec grin response. HAHA!

    I’m also of Irish descent too, so that might have something to do with it, but WAY TO GO! I know most of my German friends are glad that I’m even trying. When compassion and effort lead only good things will come back. Keep it up, you’re doing GREAT!

    • hollywillbanks@yahoo.com Post author

      Ha, thank you! I will definitely need to remember that phrase!! Good for you and thanks for the inspiration, I’ll keep my German going when they combat me with English, next time. 😉